Speech and Strife

Robert Tsai, American University


The anthropologist Clifford Geertz once observed that “[a]t the political center of any complexly organized society . . . there is both a governing elite and set of symbolic forms expressing the fact that it is in truth governing.” In the spirit of Geertz’s remark, I endeavor to capture the subtle, inventive, and self-retrenching ways in which the Supreme Court employs language to signal how we ought to think about its authority. Now that the Rehnquist Court has reshaped the constitutional topography in earnest, we would do well to examine its rhetorical legacy as scrupulously as its substantive record. As the Judiciary has proven itself to be remarkably assertive and imaginative in employing First Amendment rhetoric and symbols to carve out and sustain its sphere of influence.